For centuries, cutting and burning down forests was the way to prepare forested land for agricultural activity. This practice is still applied by many farmers around the world. When I visited Ucayali region in Peru last September, many smallholders were burning their land. It was the end of the dry season and the ‘perfect’ moment to clear land to grow more crops.
Around 70% of deforestation is linked to the production of agricultural commodities and contributed to the 2 billion hectares of degraded land worldwide. Land degradation threatens species diversity and our global food systems — it has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land service.
Considering these numbers, eradicating deforestation from supply chains is crucial to our survival. One way to realize this is to work with farmers and increase productivity on existing agricultural lands.
Growing consumer awareness about the conversion of tropical forests to palm plantations has prompted many companies to make zero deforestation pledges. Alongside this, the European Council developed due diligence rules to tackle deforestation. But what does the term ‘zero deforestation’ mean in the context of these pledges and rules?
There is no single accepted term or definition to describe the act of refraining from deforestation. Terms like ‘deforestation free’, ‘zero deforestation’ and ‘no-deforestation’ are ambiguous. For Palm Done Right we follow the UNs’ Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) concept of ‘zero net deforestation’, which means there will be no change to the total forested area, and new forests compensate for converted forests.
Securing functioning ecosystems
We care about the forests in our production landscapes and protect them. Forests are essential to securing the healthy resilient ecosystems we all depend upon. That is why farmers and plantation owners that are part of our supply networks can, under no circumstances, clear land that causes deforestation or damage areas rich in carbon.
We operate a strict Forest Conservation policy. This means that the conversion of primary and secondary forests into agricultural production areas, tree plantations, or other degenerating land uses is strictly prohibited. Our policy also stipulates that we take precautionary actions for forest preservation and have zero burning practices.
We perform rigorous assessments to ensure all farms and plantations comply with our zero net deforestation promise, and only start buying their palm fruit after they pass our internal and external audits and meet our certification standards.
Looking into the future we know that the global demand for palm oil will continue to grow, as will the demand for our organic palm oil. One pathway we take to halt deforestation is to increase productivity on existing land and work with smallholder farmers that have far lower productivity than large plantations.
To increase productivity in our supply network our team of agronomists collaborate with and support farmers to improve their agricultural practices. They train farmers in proper pruning, the use of under cropping for soil health, better and timely harvesting techniques, and fertilization plans.
Deforestation is still a reality in supply chains and origins around the world. Working with palm producers for many years has shown us that, despite awareness raising and training, forest patch clearing is still a common practice. Though reasons vary, the effect is the same — more forest loss.
If we want to halt forest loss and build deforestation-free supply chains we need to work together — source to market, market to source. Deforestation-free is possible.